Organizing to Move: How to Work with Movers

A friend of mine recently moved her family from PA to Chicagoland (yes, that’s really what they call that area). I was happy to offer a nuggets of advice on organizing to move and how to work with movers based on my experience from many, many personal and professional moves over the years.

How to Work with Movers

Organizing to Move: How to Work with Movers

Lucky for my friend, she had a relocation company and professional movers handling the move for their their two kid/one dog household. Just five days before the move, she posted that she didn’t know what she should do just before the movers came, or what the movers should do when they arrived. She’d already organized the entire house prior to putting it on the market with the help of a two-ton container (read: dumpster), so I knew she was in good shape for the actual move. But what comes next, and who does what to whom on the day of the move was still a bit of a mystery.

Packing: How to Work with Movers

Declutter before moving day. Packers hired by a moving company are there to pack quickly. They are not there to ask you if you want to keep, toss, or donate. If you want to declutter, hire a professional organizing company like ours to thoughtfully organize each room, closet, and storage inside furniture. Allocate at least four to ten hours per room with a professional organizer for decluttering, including bathrooms. You might organize an entire house more quickly, but that’s not typical. If you pack a cluttered house, you’ll be paying to pack, ship, and unpack clutter on both ends, so it pays to declutter where you live right now. But if you are under a deadline, take a breath and just do the best you can. Decluttering at the new house is easier for many people.

Some organizing companies, like ours, will also pack you for a move. Some people really love the idea of decluttering and packing at the same time, since we only have to touch things once, and our professional organizers can make arrangements for donations right away. Many people feel like it’s the right time to do something that’s been on their to-do list forever.

How to work with Movers-declutter before packing

Packing Material for a Move

If you hire professional organizers or movers to pack, let them estimate and purchase boxes and packing material for delivery to your home. Homeowners always grossly under-estimate the amount of boxes and packing paper you’ll need. Homeowners always purchase bubble wrap, while packing paper is a much better and more economical material for whole-house moves. You’d much rather over-order and return some supplies than be stuck without enough supplies on packing day. You also don’t want to skimp on cushioning for your things and risk breakage.

Let the professional movers pack everything. That’s what they do. They’ll pack things and mark boxes from the room they came in, which will likely be where the boxes will go in the new home.

For rooms that have a split personality, make sure the movers know what you call it, so they label the box correctly. They might call it “spare bedroom,” but you call it “office.” You call it a “den,” and they call it a “living room.”  You can tape a sign to the door that says, “This is the office!” so the movers label boxes correctly, even if you aren’t present when they pack.

Remember, they will pack EVERYTHING. They will pack your broiler pan that should have stayed with the oven you are selling to the new homeowners. They will pack trash if they aren’t sure. (True story, it happened to my clients.) They will pack dirty toilet brushes. Yuck. There could be two to four packers in different rooms all at once, and you may be tied up on the phone or with last minute details on packing day. Or you may just get tired. 🙂 If you don’t want it packed, put it in a specific area that is off limits to movers. Write a simple sign on a piece of paper that says, “Don’t pack anything on the Dining Room Table,” and then TELL your movers. A sign doesn’t do much good if your movers don’t all speak English. Without clear direction, you’ll be running from room to room yelling, “Yes, this, not that!” and your move will take longer and cost more.

Have easy access to a small set of tools: hammer, screwdriver, allen wrenches. Most movers don’t travel with tools, and if you need to disassemble something, they’ll just stand and look at you. I run in to this every single move. Borrow from a neighbor if you don’t want to have to worry about packing and transporting your tools.

Hand-Carry These Items When Moving

The movers are insured, so let them take even the valuable stuff, but maybe not the irreplaceable stuff, like your most important jewelry, current computers, and cash. Pack a single suitcase for each family member to travel with during the move. You need less than you think you need while you are in transit for a few days. You can buy almost everything you need at Target for the couple of days you’ll be separated from your stuff. Your cars are going to hold much less than you think they will. Except for possibly one precious photo album and a few kid or pet comfort items, let the movers pack, inventory, and transport all of your stuff.

If you like comfort items, like toilet paper and forks, pack yourself a “red cross” box. When the movers arrive to start packing, ask them for a medium sized box, and pack the things that you know you’ll need the moment you arrive at your new home, like:

  • toilet paper & paper towels
  • cups, plates & utensils for the first meal or two
  • lamps with bulbs, and a flashlight, in case you arrive at your new home at night and there are no overhead lights
  • extra baby, medical, or pet items
  • a set of sheets for each bed

Make sure that you pack this box, then mark it on all sides with a big red X or + on all sides. If you have room, carry this in your car in case you arrive at your new home before the moving van does. If the movers have it, instruct them that this is the LAST box to go on the truck, so it will be the FIRST box to come off in your new home. Movers are usually familiar with this “red cross” box. This will save you a trip to the local drug store, and allow you to stay home and direct the movers to place furniture and boxes in the correct spot in your new home.

If you have a schematic of your new house layout, a computer-generated space plan or even a hand-drawn map of where things go in the new house, make a copy for your movers, but also hand-carry multiple copies with you to your destination. They are easy to lose track of in the hustle and bustle.

computer-generated space plan for den redesign

Tipping: How to Work with Movers

Tipping movers is customary. You’ll want to budget $50-$100 (on the high end in places like NYC) cash per mover, per day, up to 10% of the move in total. Movers usually schedule a crew of 2-5 movers, depending on the size of your home. Tip on the day each move team member works, because they may not be scheduled to return the next day with the rest of the team. According to Barry Izsak, NAPO colleague and owner of, you should offer your moving van driver half of the tip on move day. Let him know you’ll tip the rest on the delivery end, which incentivizes a smooth move. After paying for a move, adding on tips sounds like a lot, but these people literally have your world in their hands. They’ll work through cold, hot, rainy, snowy conditions with bad traffic, impossible parking, and big trucks, so treat them well. If you can, have drinks, donuts, and lunch on site for them, too.

How to work with Movers-tipping


Get Help to Organize Your Move

Unless contracted, movers do not unpack. You’ll be lucky if most of the boxes get in mostly the right rooms. Even if you contract for unpacking services, this is usually done by a different crew, sometimes on the day after the truck arrives. Unpacking is just that…unpacking. They get stuff out of boxes and clear away the packing material. They do not necessarily put things away in closets, cabinets and furniture. Even if they do, it may not be organized or even logical. If you want an organized unpack, hire a team of pro organizers to do a great job and to help you feel right at home right away.

Your moving company, as good as they may be, may not share these tips with you, but knowing how to work with movers will save you much frustration and make you happy you got someone else to do the heavy lifting. 🙂

If a move is in your future, please get in touch for home staging, decluttering and organizing, packing and unpacking services from HeartWork Organizing.